A distinct (but not so positive) memory from my university career involved a meeting for a group project. I was annoyed by a team member who insisted on researching every detail, while urging us to closely follow all of the professor’s instructions.
For some reason, I felt offended by the way things were done. I wanted to use the meeting time to brainstorm innovative ideas that would set our group apart. I thought to myself, “Why can’t everyone else do things my way, since I’m always right? Things would be so much easier.”
After the project was complete, I came to realize two things. First of all, I am not always right (in fact, it rarely happens). Secondly, no two people see things in the exact same way – and this is a good thing. To this day, this second point has continued to resonate with me as I’ve lived through experiences in my career and personal life.
The more people I meet, the more I realize that every individual has different motivations, preferences, and priorities. Although this creates the foundation for a vibrant and diverse group of people, it can also create the perfect storm for conflict. Add on the fact that people have different communication styles, and the conflict can worsen.
Some say that it takes a lifetime of experience to master the art of understanding others. However, there are a variety of tools available to help you avoid conflict by becoming aware of other people’s motivations for their words and actions.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
One tool that I’ve found useful is a personality inventory called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This tool classifies people into one of 16 different personality types. These types are based on how people perceive the world, how they make conclusions based on their observations, and how this translates into their actions.
The MBTI focuses on four opposing cognitive learning styles, and measures where an individual lands on each spectrum. The overall combination results in the 16 types. This is a tool that I could have used to gauge the personality type of my group member, and also myself.
The questions to ask
These questions can be applied to yourself, or to another person.
Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I): Do you gain energy from being around people and being involved in activities? Or, do you gain energy from thinking and being alone?
Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N): Do you focus on the physical world around you, with a preference for facts and details? Or, do you pay more attention to the impressions and meanings of events?
Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F): Do you make decisions by weighing the pros and cons, trying to be as impersonal as possible? Or, do you make decisions by prioritizing people’s feelings to maintain harmony?
Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P): To the outside world, are you task-oriented, preferring to do things in an orderly way? Or, are you spontaneous and prefer to keep plans to a minimum?
Although the MBTI is a patented test that must be conducted by a certified administrator, there are numerous online quizzes that are inspired by it, such as this one. The same website also provides an interpretation of the 16 personality types here.
A lot of behaviours that some find “annoying” or “difficult to deal with” can be linked to traits in the MBTI. For example:
|Behaviour||Related MBI trait|
|Speaks out loud before thinking||Extraversion|
|Comes up with unrealistic and far-fetched ideas||Intuition|
|Has trouble delivering bad news or negative feedback||Feeling|
|Procrastinates when completing tasks||Perceiving|
Understanding yourself and others
The MBTI helped me realize that conflict does not need to be taken personally. You can probably guess that my group member scored high on the Sensing and Judging characteristics, whereas I do not. These are characteristics that are essential in any project. If I had realized that, this “conflict” would have been less severe or nonexistent.
Most importantly, using the MBTI would have helped me to understand myself. By pinpointing my own weaknesses (i.e. a lack of the Sensing and Judging characteristics), I could have identified ways to improve in these areas. Many people compare these learning styles to speaking a language. Although you have a natural preference for speaking a first language, you can train yourself to become competent in another language.
Despite all of the praise that I’ve given to the MBTI, you should note that personality inventories should be used as a resource, and not taken as gospel. They generalize behavior by describing tendencies. As mentioned, no two human beings are alike (even if they have the same MBTI personality type). Always apply your own judgment, and remember that nothing can replace sitting down and getting to know someone on a personal level.
With all this being said, I hope you pick your future conflicts wisely.